Three Books On The Bible: A Critical Review -- By: D. A. Carson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 26:3 (Sep 1983)
Article: Three Books On The Bible: A Critical Review
Author: D. A. Carson

Three Books On The Bible: A Critical Review

D. A. Carson*

The Divine Inspiration of Holy Scripture. William J. Abraham. Oxford: University Press, 1981, 126 pp., $27.95.

The Scope and Authority of the Bible. James Barr. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980; London: SCM, 1980, 150 pp., $7.95 paper.

Biblical Inspiration. I. Howard Marshall. London: Hodder, 1982; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983, 125 pp., $4.95 paper.

Although all three of these books deal with what older writers used to call bibliology or the doctrine of Scripture, the aims and conclusions of each work are substantially different from those of the other two. For that reason a critical review of them may help to clarify a considerable part of the current state of play on this perennially important subject.

The first book, badly overpriced, was written by an Irish Methodist minister who now teaches theology and philosophy of religion at Seattle Pacific University. Abraham writes from within the evangelical camp, broadly conceived. His aim is to introduce a new concept of inspiration, one he judges to be more compatible with the Biblical texts and with modern scholarship than that espoused by, say, ETS members.

In the first chapter Abraham sets forth his criticism of what he calls the “conservative evangelical” view. One of its root problems, he argues, is that it is far too dependent on Packer and Warfield. Warfield was the great deductivist—i.e., he “approached the issue of inspiration deductively” (p. 16). He began with firm ideas about inspiration and deduced “by normal rules of inference what this entailed for the content and character of the Bible” (p. 16), forcing the hard data of Scripture to be squeezed into this logical mold. But the idea of inspiration with which Warfield worked was faulty, and therefore his inferences were groundless. Abraham believes that Warfield depended more than he realized on Louis Gaussen’s famous Theopneustia,1 which (he alleges) espoused a dictation theory of inspiration. But as scholarship discovered difficulties, various modifications and qualifications had to be introduced. For instance, the significance of errors was sometimes simply played down, as in Charles Hodge’s famous “specks on the Parthenon” passage (though Abraham, p. 19, does not point out that Hodge’s next lines show that he himself did not admit that there are any such

*D. A. Carson is professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

specks, but only that if there are they cannot be ...

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